by Mark Schonbeck

We have a big problem in Washington, DC.  The House of Representatives is poised to vote on a 2018 Farm Bill that would harm family farmers and rural communities across the nation, and unravel decades of hard-won progress toward a sustainable agriculture and food system.  Among other failings, the House Farm Bill:

  • Eliminates the Conservation Stewardship Program, which currently supports high level resource stewardship on some 70 million acres of farm and ranchland.
  • De-funds several rural development and local food programs, including Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP), Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP), and Value Added Producer Grants (VAPG).
  • Widens loopholes in payment limits on crop insurance and commodity subsidies, giving the largest corporate farms even more leverage to force family farms out of business.
  • Fails to improve access to crop insurance programs for beginning, small-scale, and diversified farm, and de-funds the Risk Management Education Partnership, a key program that helps these farmers avoid crop losses in the first place.
  • Slashes funding for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and throws two million low income Americans off the program.

For details on the “top ten” failings of this bill, visit http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/house-farm-bill-top-ten-2018/.

Bottom line: this is the worst farm bill ever – but the good news is that it has not yet passed, and it can be killed.   We need all hands on deck to defeat this bill and send the House Agriculture Committee back to the drawing board!  The bill is scheduled for debate and vote by the full House of Representatives this week

Call your Congressional Representative TODAY and urge him/her to vote NO on the Farm Bill released by the House Agriculture Committee.  If you do not know your Representative’s telephone number on Capitol Hill, call the Capitol Hill switchboard at 202-224-3121.  Use the following sample language as a starting point, and speak from your own experience and perspective to one or more of the issues listed above.

Hello, my name is [____] and I am a constituent in your district. Please vote NO on H.R. 2 – the 2018 Farm Bill. This bill will harm our farmers and our rural communities, and will make more Americans food-insecure.  It must be defeated so that the Agriculture Committee can present a decent Farm Bill for consideration later this year. Thank you.

For more on Farm Bill action, visit the NSAC web site, http://sustainableagriculture.net

2018 Farm Bill – Next Steps

House Floor Amendments

There remains a slim chance that one or more Amendments may be offered during floor debate of the House Farm Bill later this week that could ameliorate some of the bill’s worst flaws.  While our position remains to defeat the bill and have the House Agriculture Committee start over, support for a constructive Amendment can yet help shape the final outcome.  Watch for developments this week by visiting the NSAC blog page http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/.

Focus on the Senate

The Senate Agriculture Committee is currently busy writing its version of the 2018 Farm Bill. Now is the time to urge them to lead the charge toward a truly sustainable agriculture and food system. Key provisions are included in the following bipartisan Marker Bills:

While Virginia’s Senators do not serve on the Agriculture Committee, they can contact Senate Ag Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow to urge her and her Ag Committee colleagues to the provisions in these Marker Bills in their 2018 Farm Bill.  Call Senator Mark Warner at 202-224-2023 (ask to speak with Micah Barbour) and Senator Tim Kaine at 202-224-4024 (ask to speak with Donald Pollard and/or Nick Barbash).  In the likely event that the aides will not be available to talk with you directly, leave your message on their voice mail or with the front office staffer who answers your call.

Following is some additional background information and context from National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) to help you prepare and make your calls.

Beginning Farmer and Rancher Bill

The farmers and ranchers across the country who feed us are getting older – the average American farmer is nearing 60. Now is the time to invest in the next generation of folks who want to raise our food and steward the land for years to come.  They’re going to be job creators, entrepreneurs, and innovators of the future – provided we help them get the resources and skills they need to succeed.

Good news: a bill introduced in Congress last week by Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Susan Collins (R-ME) seeks to ensure the next generation of farmers and ranchers thrives!  The Next Generation in Agriculture Act (S.2762) is a bill that will knock down long-standing barriers to entry and open doors to opportunity for new and aspiring farmers. This legislation will ensure that the farm bill gives real support to both aspiring and retiring farmers and ranchers, as well as the American public, by:

  • Expanding beginning farmers’ access to farmland
  • Empowering new farmers with the skills to succeed in today’s agricultural economy
  • Ensuring equitable access to federal crop insurance

The Senate is hard at work on its draft 2018 Farm Bill – we need the Next Generation in Agriculture Act to be included in that package! For that to happen, the bill needs co-sponsors – legislators who will stand up for farmers and communities by showing their support for the bill.

Will you ask your Senators to co-sponsor this bill today?

Tell your legislators: Hello, my name is [____]. I am a constituent and a voter. (tell ‘em if you’re a farmer!) I’m calling with a message for my Senator’s agriculture staffer. We need the next farm bill to be a farm bill for the future – please show your support for the next generation of farmers by co-sponsoring The Next Generation in Agriculture Act (S.2762) today and helping to include the Act in the upcoming farm bill!

Local and Regional Food Systems Bill

So much good is happening in the food movement today. Demand is skyrocketing for fresh, healthy food from local sources – and farmers are growing to meet that demand and expand access for everyone.

Underpinning some of this positive progress? The farm bill. This big piece of federal legislation makes millions of dollars in investments for stronger local and regional food systems. Well, it did until recently – right now, in addition to cuts to the SNAP (food stamp) program that anti-hunger advocates have flagged as very harmful, the draft 2018 Farm Bill just passed in the House Agriculture Committee makes sweeping, radical cuts in funding for local and regional food efforts that could set our shared movement back decades!

There’s still time to fix this. The Senate has begun drafting its own, different version of the bill – and we can ask them to do better! We need them to take a better path forward by including a key package of improvements called the Local FARMS Act (S. 1947) in the 2018 Farm Bill. The Local FARMS Act will:

  • Help farmers reach new markets through outreach, cost-share, and technical assistance programs.
  • Increase access to fresh, healthy, local food among low-income groups and communities in need.
  • Develop new and strengthen existing infrastructure that connects producers to consumers.

Sample call for this issue:

Hello, my name is [____]. I’m calling with a message for my Senator’s agriculture staffer. I understand that the House Agriculture Committee just voted on a draft farm bill. The draft right now in the House is unacceptable – I’m asking you to help fix these major problems when the Senate drafts its own 2018 Farm Bill this year by co-sponsoring The Local FARMS Act (S.1947). I support local farmers, I want good food in my community accessible to everyone, and including this bill in the 2018 Farm Bill will help get us there. Thank you for your time!

Conservation

So much good is happening in the sustainable agriculture movement today. Farmers are adopting smart conservation practices like cover crops and pollinator habitat at a rapid clip. Growers are seeing win-win benefits for their soil and their bottom line, and they are spreading the word to other farmers.

There’s a big problem, though. The House recently passed its version of the 2018 Farm Bill, and completely eliminates one of the core supports helping farmers adopt sustainable practices. It’s called the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and this completely voluntary program is overwhelmingly popular with farmers for its ability to improve the health of the land’s soil, water, and profitability. The House bill would erase support for a program that currently spans 70 million acres (that’s an area the size of Nevada!) of working farm and ranchland.

There’s still time to fix this. The Senate has begun drafting its own, different version of the bill – and we can ask them to do better! We need them to take a better path forward by including a key package of improvements called the GROW Act (S. 2557) in the 2018 Farm Bill.

This Act includes full support and key improvements for CSP, along with other key conservation programs. We need to ensure the Senate stands firmly with farmers and ranchers – and continues to invest in the long-term sustainability of our soil and water.

Sample call:

Hello, my name is [____]. I’m writing with a message for my Senator’s agriculture staffer. I understand that the House Agriculture Committee just voted on a draft farm bill. The draft right now in the House guts conservation programs and is unacceptable – I’m asking you do better when the Senate drafts its own 2018 Farm Bill this year. Please cosponsor the GROW Act (S. 2557) today and show your support for farmers and for full funding for critical conservation programs like the Conservation Stewardship Program in the next farm bill. Thank you for your time.

Thank you for speaking out! Let us know how it went – contact NSAC Grassroots Director Sarah Hackney at shackney@sustainableagriculture.net.